By Paul Honda
After struggling often in preseason, No. 7-ranked Kahuku (9-5, 5-0) has found a sense of consistency and rhythm.
The Red Raider boys basketball team has made big improvements in the past few weeks, and last night’s 58-53 win at No. 4 Moanalua is proof positive.
Moanalua (10-5, 3-1) was terrific in one quarter, the second, but wasn’t steady enough shooting the ball the rest of the time. I’ll get to that later. First, here’s the rest of this morning’s story, the latter part that didn’t make the cut in the paper due to limited space.
Both teams opened with 2-3 zone defenses, but after Nehoa Akina hit consecutive 3-point bombs, Moanalua went to a man-to-man.
A trey by Michael Tyau sparked a mini-run that gave Kahuku a 17-12 lead early in the second quarter.
Reserve forward Kevin Amaral scored on a pair of drives to help Moanalua surge ahead. Freshman Marcus Keene’s three-point play on a fastbreak gave Na Menehune a 21-19 lead, and they extended the lead to 27-22 on Dexter Williams’ baseline jumper.
Thompson asserted himself in the third quarter, scoring Kahuku’s first four points and triggering a fastbreak with a swat. After a trey by Akina, Jackson Kaka hustled for a putback that put Kahuku ahead 35-34 midway through the third quarter.
With its bench clapping and chanting, “Defense”, and a raucous crowd back in the game, Moanalua tied the game at 38-all and 40-all, but couldn’t punch ahead right away.
Kahuku got key points inside from backup center Mason Golden to spark a 9-2 run for a 49-42 lead with 5:14 left.
Na Menehune kept attacking the 2-3 zone and got back-to-back buckets inside by Wesley Armbrust to get within 49-48.
Moments later, Monroe’s first 3-pointer of the game tied it at 51 with 1:29 to go. A free throw by Galeai Malufau gave Kahuku a one-point lead, but Keene stole the ball away from Malufau on the ensuing miss and scored on a breakaway for a 53-52 Moanalua lead with 1:09 to go.
That’s where the story ended. The early part explained how hot Nehoa Akina shot: 26 points including 6-of-12 shooting from the arc.
Now, about that second quarter …
Just for that one stanza, Moanalua was on a roll.
Na Menehune shot 50 percent (7-for-14), got transition points and applied heavy pressure over three-fourths of the floor on Kahuku, which in turn committed seven turnovers.
That strong second quarter lifted the home team, Moanalua, to a 27-24 halftime lead.
Kahuku, which sat back in 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones for almost the entire night, never strayed. Using their height and quickness out of a 2-3 zone, the Red Raiders contested Moanalua shots, and when Na Menehune got open looks, shots just wouldn’t drop. Moanalua shot 4-for-12 in the first quarter, 5-for-12 in the third and 5-for-15 in the fourth.
In all, Moanalua shot below 40 percent (21-for-53) in a game it could easily have won with a few more connections. With Thompson (6-foot-4), Jackson Kaka (6-4) and Golden (6-5) anchoring the low post, Kahuku shut off Moanalua’s second-effort opportunities. Moanalua hustled — 11 of its 20 boards were on the offensive glass — but didn’t get much in the way of putbacks.
Yet, a couple more 3-pointers by Moanalua would’ve made enough of a difference on a 3-for-17 night from the arc.
There is one plus, though, for Na Menehune. They knew they were in the midst of a cold shooting night, so they patiently worked around and through Kahuku’s zone for better shots. When the teams meet again next week at Kahuku, Moanalua will be much more familiar with the 2-3 zone.
“They were looking to dump off and that helped us,” Kahuku coach Hiram Akina said. “When they attacked, that’s when they scored.”
Kahuku got a huge performance from Nehoa Akina (26 points, 6-for-12 from deep), but only one other scorer hit double figures. Shairone Thompson had 11 points and 12 boards to help his team to a 31-20 edge on the glass.
Moanalua will almost certainly spread the floor and force Kahuku out if its zone given the opportunity. Call it the Red Raiders’ comfort zone: with a lead, they’re going to be tough to beat. Down in the fourth quarter? All that height becomes less of a factor if and when they have to chase a quick team like Moanalua.
Coach Akina saw his team struggle through preseason, but was proud after the big win.
“Shairone, Jackson, Mua (Malufau), they all stepped up. Guys off the bench, they stepped up, too,” he said.
Moanalua’s leading scorers were the two Marcuses, Monroe and Keene, who scored 12 points each.
“Marcus (Monroe) can do so many things, but Keene scared me, watching him. Reece Racoma scared me, too,” the coach said. “Our guys stood firm and rebounded. We’ve been doing really well at practice, now that we’re practicing. It’s been fun watching them develop.”
A battle with Kalaheo awaits tomorrow. Kahuku lost a nonconference game to the Mustangs by just four points a month ago.
“We weren’t ready then,” Nehoa Akina said.
Moanalua has Kaiser tomorrow. The disappointment of a loss is real, but in the OIA, the regular season is just glorified pool play. Unlike other leagues, there’s no state-tournament berth at stake.
“We need to refocus,” Moanalua coach Greg Tacon said. “We’ve got two more games in the next four days.”
And, finally, a brief and very recent history of Moanalua versus Kahuku, the landmark saga of two OIA Red East powers.
• Jan. 12, 2008 — Kahuku wins a nail-biter at home over the visiting Menehune, 59-56
• Jan. 28, 2008 — Moanalua, unranked at the time, upsets No. 6 Kahuku 48-46 on Na Menehune’s home court. Stevie Austin’s free throws with 2 seconds left provide the cushion.
• Feb. 15, 2008 — This has nothing to do with Kahuku, but is pertinent. Hiram Akina, coaching at Mililani, guides the Trojans over Moanalua in the OIA Red final, 49-34, at McKinley Student Council Gym. By the following season, Akina is at the helm at Kahuku.
• Jan. 20, 2009 — Second-ranked Kahuku tops No. 8 Moanalua 64-57 at Na Menehune’s gym.
• Feb. 13, 2009 — The Red Raiders have risen to No. 1 and down Moanalua 57-41 on the North Shore.
• Feb. 19, 2009 — Moanalua regroups and gives Kahuku a battle before losing 46-44 in a playoff game.
• Jan. 14, 2010 — Nehoa Akina’s hanging-in-midair 21-footer over two defenders gives No. 7 Kahuku a 55-53 lead with 48 seconds left and, eventually, a 58-53 win at No. 4 Moanalua.
Kahuku’s streak is now four wins over Moanalua. The teams meet again on Monday at Kahuku.